LANCASTER COUNTY, Pa. — The Lancaster County district attorney said members of a religious group will face trial for allegedly trying to lure a 14-year-old girl away from her family.
At the time, the teenage girl from the Denver area said, her neighbors from the splinter Mennonite church were her only friends.
So, when Megan Ramsey’s parents forbade her from seeing them any more, she followed a church member’s instructions and slipped away in the middle of the night in Plain Sect clothing.
The pastor and two adult female members of Reidenbach Mennonite Church on Thursday were ordered to stand trial in Lancaster County Court on felony charges of concealing Ramsey from the police and her distraught parents on Dec. 10, 2009.
The three had plans to take the girl and about 40 church members with them when they moved to Kentucky, according to Megan and police.
Rachel Zimmerman Starr, 54, of 448 Pleasant Valley Road, Denver, is charged with interference with the custody of children and criminal conspiracy/concealment of the whereabouts of a child. Starr convinced the girl to run away and helped hide her, according to police.
Alda Hoover Martin, 23, of 165 W. Maple Grove Road, Denver, is charged with criminal conspiracy/concealment of the whereabouts of a child. Martin, police and the teen said at the hearing, hid Ramsey — first in a pile of hay in a barn and then in a chicken coop.
Aaron Zimmerman Hoover, 47, of 449 W. Maple Grove Road, Denver, pastor of the church and Martin’s brother, is charged with criminal conspiracy/concealment of whereabouts of a child. Police said he knew of the plot and did not help police officers when they were trying to find the child.
The homeschooled teen told of how she became friends with her Plain Sect neighbors shortly after her family moved into a rental home on Pleasant Valley Road.
She made friends with adults and children her own age, she said, and about a year later started worshipping with the group.
Her parents at first encouraged the relationship, she said, helping her buy plain clothes so she fit in at services.
Then, due to falling grades, Megan said, her parents told her she could not go to services anymore. Eventually, she was forbidden from seeing the church members.
But she and Starr would hold clandestine meetings in a meadow, she said, and Starr wrote her letters, about 10 in all.
Eventually, Megan said, Starr advised her to run away and gave her a letter with specific instructions for what she was to do the night of the flight. Wear dark clothes and burn this letter, it said.
One part of the letter told her to leave a note in her bedroom for her parents, telling them she was running away because she couldn’t practice her faith. The letter also told Megan to tell her parents not to look for her.
Under questioning from Starr’s defense attorney, Cory Miller, Ramsey answered, “Yes,” when asked if it was her decision to run away and if it was her choice to hide from her parents.
“I really didn’t want it to go this way but, at the time, I thought it was the only way to be able to spend time with my friends. I didn’t have any other friends then,” she said.
Earlier in her testimony, however, she said Starr initiated the decision to run away.
“I don’t think I would ever have thought of the idea,” she said.
None of the three defendants testified. Dressed in plain sect clothing, they sat stoically behind their three defense attorneys.
Much of the church’s congregation showed up to show their support.